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For the birthday of a keen sailor I want to make a a yacht-shaped cake, ideally with a sail rigged (not least because with my rather limited cake-creating skills it will reduce the risk that it gets mistaken for a radio mast, unusual stick insect, etc...) An inedible sail seems too much like cheating (taken to the logical conclusion I could just put chocolate icing on a toy boat), a sheet of gelatin or rice paper would be technically edible but not very festive to eat, and my other idea of a thin layer of hard toffee seems poised between being soft enough to sag/collapse and hard enough to be dangerously fragile.

So the properties I think I need for the sail are:

  • about 30cm high, 20cm wide (i.e. a triangle formed from folding an A4 sheet of paper)
  • strong enough to support its own weight for a few days
  • light enough to be supported by an edible mast (I hope to use one or more chocolate Mikado sticks for this: yet to perform the delicious process of determining their load limits)
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You can press cotton candy into a thin sheet that resembles paper or cloth. Put the candy between two pieces of parchment, flatten it with your hands and cut into shape. Consider that the sail may be delicate or very delicate, depending on how thick you make it. To attach it to the mast use caramel, isomalt, couverture, marzipan ...

El Bulli used to serve 'Flower Paper' made with this technique. Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLpTCN9pT2Q to see a Demonstration (Flower Paper starts around 6 min 30 sec).

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  • Now that's a nice left-field notion - now I just need the circus to come to town (or to post a new question: how to make cotton candy without a machine...) – Tom Goodfellow Nov 3 '15 at 7:31
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    I've seen cheap cotton candy machines around... Some grocery stores even sell cotton candy on the candy aisle. – Catija Nov 3 '15 at 15:45
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Did a bit of digging and found this archived thread from Cooking Light.

Pulling suggestions from stuff I saw on that thread and my own thoughts (full disclosure, I haven't tried any of them myself):

  1. Melting sugar/corn syrup/some other sweetener and then letting it dry into a thin layer on a sheet pan. Then you could cut/crack part of it into a triangle and you have a stiff sail. It would probably support its own weight, but might be too heavy to hold on the "mast" and would probably be partially transparent.

  2. You could try making gumpaste, which is supposed to harden into a relatively stiff structure. Not sure if it'd hold up its own weight over a few days, but wouldn't be hard to test it ahead of time.

  3. The fruit rollup suggestion in the thread I linked above would be easy, provided you don't mind a neon-colored sail :)

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  • Good digging! The gumpaste looks intriguing - royal icing fortified with what appears to be plant clotting agent (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tylose) but seems likely to become brittle when fully set, whereas the rollups would be a little more forgiving. – Tom Goodfellow Oct 31 '15 at 2:50
  • Fruit leather (aka 'Fruit rollup' in the US) would be my suggestion as well. Not all are obnoxiously colored, and you could always adjust the colors if you made it yourself. (many recipes call for reducing stovetop, then baking in a low oven ... I had assumed you'd need a dehydrator) – Joe Oct 31 '15 at 14:08
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Besides the suggestions from bgottfried91, one other possibility would be to use rolled fondant, especially if you wanted something closer to white:

Roll it out thinly, cut it to shape, then set it on a form to harden. This might take a couple of days to harden fully, but you can also put it into a pre-heated (but off) oven to dry it out. (note that it'll be soft when it comes out, let it cool to harden).

Thickness will affect the weight (and how much strain it'll put on the mast), but thicker will also mean it's more durable and better able to support itself.

...

If you have a silicone mat or parchment paper, you could also try a few other things, but they're going to be more brittle:

  • Oatmeal lace cookies. (mostly sugar and butter, with some oatmeal & flour as a binder). They spread dramatically when you bake them, but you can lay them over something to shape. You'll also want to clean up the edges or lightly score them while they're still warm, so that you can achieve the shape you want. (this is rather similar to bgottfried91's first suggestion, but might be a little more forgiving than typical sugar work).

    You can do regular size lace cookies without parchment by letting them cool for a couple of minutes, then popping them back in the oven to soften enough to release ... but I wouldn't suggest it on something of significant size. (cupcake-sails, maybe ... not for a large cake, though).

  • Cheese crisps. Sprinkle a relatively low-moisture cheese in roughly the shape you want on your parchment or silicone, bake in the oven 'til you drive off the moisture and most of the oils ... then you can drape it over something to let it cool. (and again, might want to score it while it's still warm)

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